In Mexico, the talk about the dead – a lot of dead – has become normal.
Dead from femicides. Dead from drug violence. Dead from the pandemic. And all of a sudden, as we hear and read and talk about it so much, death loses its horror and we become accustomed to having it close, too close.
The normal should be life, not death.
Every so often, I go into the official Web pages of the Mexican government and look at the number of homicides. And the numbers are horrifying. Since Andrés Manuel López Obrador was sworn in as president, there have been 83,405 homicides. If this trend continues, his six-year term will be the bloodiest in modern Mexican history.
Some points for comparison: during all of Enrique Peña Nieto's presidential term, using the same counting system, 125,508 people were murdered. During the administration of Felipe Calderón – who declared war on drug traffickers – a different accounting reported 121,683 murders. At the current pace, the AMLO government will quickly surpass the homicides of the past two presidential terms.
But AMLO sees different data. His glass is half full.
During his morning news conference May 21, he said that the homicide rate “has dropped very little, but it's not rising in the way it was when we came into office.” He added, “We hope to continue dropping. This crime is very tightly connected to organized crime.”
The problem is that death has become a constant. The stability that the president spoke about is in the dead. When nearly 3,000 people are murdered every month in the country, you cannot say the strategy is working. At the same news conference, the government revealed that the recently formed National Guard had expanded to 99,000 members. Good idea. Bad results.
AMLO, no matter how much he insists, can no longer blame other presidents for the deaths during his government. No more. It's clear that the war on drug trafficking did not start with him, that some former government officials are linked to the drug mafias and have enormous power to corrupt and kill, and that there are parts of Mexico where the government has no presence – up to 35 percent, according to the U.S. military's Northern Command. But that's precisely why more than 30 million Mexicans voted for him – to fix the country's worst problems. He's not been able to fix this problem.
Or the problem of the femicides. From January to April, 318 women were officially reported to have been murdered because of their gender. That's virtually the same as the 319 reported for the same period in 2020. Few of the killers are ever identified, and fewer still wind up in prison. But these failures by the officials in charge of justice should not make us accustomed to these murders, accepting them as normal.
Octavio Paz wrote in his book Labyrinth of Solitude that “the Mexicans' indifference in the face of death grows from their indifference in the face of life.” Those words, written in the middle of the 20th Century, are just as appropriate in 2021. “Mexican death is the mirror of life for Mexicans. In the face of both, the Mexican closes up, ignores them.”
We can no longer continue to ignore death in Mexico. Not just from the violence, but from the pandemic as well. While the official death toll from Covid-19 stands at 214,000, the number of excess deaths linked to the virus stands at more than 337,000. Which of the two numbers do we believe? We must note that the government officials currently in charge of public health policies are the ones responsible for the grave errors that have allowed such a giant number of deaths. Only the United States, Brazil and India report more deaths.
Elections on June 6 will renew the federal congress, governorships and local offices in all 32 states. Dozens of candidates have been murdered, and news media have called it “the bloodies electoral campaign in Mexican history.” The government was required to protect the candidates, and it failed. And the balloting, like almost all others, will be a referendum on the work of President López Obrador.
I am aware that AMLO continues to be very popular – 61 percent, according to a poll by Consulta Mitofsky. His fight against corruption – and his fierce attacks on past governments that looted the country and were responsible for frauds and massacres for decades – has the support of millions of Mexicans. It is, without question, a change. But the question is whether those Mexicans who voted for him in 2018 will continue to support him. AMLO and his MORENA party will be judged less on their opposition to the past than for their handling of the violence, the pandemic and the economy.
In the long run, all governments are judged by their results, not the myths they create for themselves. As for the dead in Mexico, there are no results. We have normalized the horror.